Disembodying Women: Perspectives on Pregnancy and the Unborn

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In earlier times, a woman knew she was pregnant when she experienced "quickening"--she felt movement within her. Today a woman relies on what she sees in a test result or a digital sonogram image to confirm her pregnancy. A private experience once mediated by women themselves has become a public experience interpreted and controlled by medical professionals. In Disembodying Women Barbara Duden takes a closer look at this contemporary transformation of women's experience of pregnancy. She suggests that advances in technology and parallel changes in public discourse have refrained pregnancy as a managed process, the mother as an ecosystem, and the fetus as an endangered species.

Drawing on extensive historical research, Duden traces the graphic techniques-from anatomists' drawings to woodcuts to X rays and ultrasound-used to "flay" the female body and turn it inside out. Emphasizing the iconic power of the visual within twentieth-century culture, Duden follows the process by which the pregnant woman's flesh has been peeled away to uncover scientific data. Lennart Nilsson's now famous photographs of the embryo published in Life magazine in the mid-1960s stand in stark contrast to representations of the invisible unborn in medieval iconography or sixteenth-century painting. Illumination has given way to illustration, ideogram to facsimile, the contemplative intuition of the body to a scientific analysis of its component parts.

New ways of seeing the body produce new ways of experiencing the body. Because technology allows us to penetrate that once secret enclosure of the womb, the image of the fetus, exposed to public gaze, has eclipsed that of woman in the public mind. Society, anxious about the health of the global environment, has focused on protecting "life" in the maternal ecosystem, in effect, pitting fetus against mother.

Duden's reading of the body lends a unique historical and philosophical perspective to contemporary debate over fetal rights, reproductive technologies, abortion, and the right to privacy. This provocative work should reinvigorate that debate by calling into question contemporary certainties and the policies and programs they serve to justify.

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Editorial Reviews

Patricia Williams
In a world of victim profiles, suspect typologies, life cycle projections, reasonable men, and talking fetuses, Barbara Duden puts the living body back into its skin, rescuing our humanity from the fragmenting tyranny of the actuarial self.
Library Journal
In collecting 17 papers she had presented at professional meetings, Duden here aims to ``enable the nonacademic reader to listen in on . . . well-read and passionately interested friends.'' Her main interest is the history of the body, but she disassociates herself from the positions typically associated with the current abortion controversies. Employing erudite vocabulary, she contends that the human fetus as conceptualized today is not a creature of God or natural fact but an engineered construct of modern society. Advances in technology make pregnancy a ``managed process''--a matter of historical epistemology. A professor of social sciences in Germany and author of Women Beneath the Skin (Harvard, 1991), Duden takes a daring look at a controversial subject. Her book is recommended for academic and large public libraries.-- Helen Rippier Wheeler, formerly Univ. of Cal. SLIS, Berkeley
First published in German in 1991 (Luchterhand Literaturverlag GmbH). The author, a historian, traces the impact of graphic techniques--from anatomists' drawings to woodcuts to X rays and ultrasound--that have shaped our conception of the fetus. Her work lends a unique historical and philosophical perspective to contemporary debate over fetal rights, reproductive technology, abortion, and the right to privacy. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674212671
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 1/28/1993
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 126
  • Product dimensions: 6.33 (w) x 9.34 (h) x 0.66 (d)

Meet the Author

Barbara Duden has been on the faculty of the Science, Technology, and Society Program at Pennsylvania State University and is currently a Fellow at the Institute for Cultural Studies, Essen, Germany.
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Table of Contents

Introduction 1
1 The Lost Horizon 5
2 The Nilsson Effect 11
3 The Average Fetus in Harlem 25
4 Joanne and Susan 30
5 How the Body Became a Showcase 34
6 A Skeptical Discipline 43
7 The Public Fetus 50
8 The Legal Status of the Not-Yet 56
9 The Tailor's Wife 62
10 The Thought Collective and the Construction of Reality 67
11 The Neo-plasm in the Entrails 73
12 Quickening and the King's Mistress 79
13 Fluxes and Stagnations 83
14 Hapsis and Opsis 89
15 The Uterine Police 94
16 Synthetic Life 99
17 The Blue Disk and the Pink Disk 107
Notes 113
Index 123
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